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Shark feeding: a fair look at the industry in Australia


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#1 Drew

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 09:54 AM

Here's an Australian Channel 9 report discussing the shark chumming operator issuse from all sides of the debate, including Abalone divers.




Part 2 of the report:




A counter point against the shark diving industry, surprisingly comes from Discovery's Shark Week 2011 program, Rogue Sharks. In this program, Ralph Collier of Shark Research Committee, suggests that the Oceanic White Tip shark that was possibly responsible for 4 of the 5 attacks in the Sharm El Sheik area, was "conditioned" to interact with humans, due to how that particular shark was constantly fed. From the injuries to the arm to the buttock area, the theory was that the shark was just repeating the "act' as it were.
The hand was targeted due to the the hand feeding that is popular in the Red Sea area. The buttocks seemed to correlate with where the shark feeders would keep the spare fish! In essence, the shark feeding basically habituated the oceanic white tip to associate humans with food. That and other factors like the rich protected marine parks and overfishing in the ocean, made the normally oceanic shark to move inshore.
With the Sharm El Sheik incidents, the issue of shark chumming/feeding dives becomes a bit more immediate for humans.

Our previous discussion can be found here:

Is shark feeding altering behavior?

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#2 John Bantin

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Posted 19 August 2011 - 11:44 AM

...or that sharks attack large animals from behind (minimising the risk to themselves) and that an arm use to fend off an attacker gets bitten too?

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#3 Drew

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Posted 19 August 2011 - 02:05 PM

That's what happened with the Aliwal Shoal diver... a dusky bit his leg and he badly injured his hand trying to pry the jaws off.

However, the Sharm El Sheik Oceanic White Tip responsible for the attacks was apparently was identified in previous shark feeding videos, being fed the same way over and over again. Moreover, the bites on the victims were apparently targeted at the 2 parts, ie just the buttocks/upper legs and hands/forearms were bitten. That lends more weight to the preconditioning argument theory and less toward yours, John. The 5th victim which was bitten by the Mako had a bite in the thigh leg area.

That said, it is a theory and Ralph Collier isn't the only authority on sharks. It'd be interesting to see what George Burgess and the other panelists who were in Egypt have to say. Still, the correlation seems valid and begs discussion.

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#4 wagsy

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Posted 19 August 2011 - 04:20 PM

Some good points there and I would tend to agree that it's getting them use to people + boats = food
The same over on Ningaloo having all these recreational fishing wollies trolling / burleying up to try to catch a fish and attracting the sharks to their boats right beside people snorkelling with the Whale Sharks.
It's only a matter of time till someone is bitten over there.

I am off to the Coral Sea in a week to do just this.
It is interesting that the sharks out there only come in once we get in for the second dive.
First dive you hardly see them.
It's like they just know.
Guess one good thing is it's like 100 km off the back of the Barrier Reef out in the middle of no where.
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#5 danielandrewclem

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 04:21 AM

What makes these businesses and practices so unethical is that one person's day of fun or exciting photography can end up facilitating another person's death or dismemberment. It's one thing for a customer to sign a waiver and get killed doing what they knew (to some extent) to be risky; it's quite another for someone to die because they had the misfortune of swimming in the ocean near animals that were conditioned to the point of associating specific human body parts with free food. The "Rogue Shark" show was pretty damning in that regard, though the more appropriate title would've been "Trained Shark." But I expect the shark-feeding defenders to show up in force, pointing out that Collier isn't a "real scientist" and erecting straw-man arguments about how there would be many many more such attacks if this hypothesis were valid.

When you bait and feed wild predators that have the neurological foundation for conditioning, and in some cases you do so repeatedly with the same individuals, you aren't merely pushing the right buttons or gently manipulating existing behaviors. You are reshaping those buttons and changing behaviors. Why this isn't obvious in this context, whereas if we were talking about lions or bears most of us would immediately get the problem, I have no idea. Perhaps its a case of our own cognitive tendencies and biases overriding what ought to be clear. And perhaps some of us have convinced ourselves that the downsides or unanswered questions surrounding these operations are outweighed by all those wonderful, opinion-shaping video clips and photographs or man and shark communing peacefully.

Respect nature? Respect sharks? Then leave them alone. You can fight the good fight and work to protect shark populations without pulling a Rob Stewart and insisting that the entire enterprise depends on you frolicking in the water with the animals. The world does not need another 10,000 images of Emma.
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#6 loftus

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 05:06 AM

That's what happened with the Aliwal Shoal diver... a dusky bit his leg and he badly injured his hand trying to pry the jaws off.

However, the Sharm El Sheik Oceanic White Tip responsible for the attacks was apparently was identified in previous shark feeding videos, being fed the same way over and over again. Moreover, the bites on the victims were apparently targeted at the 2 parts, ie just the buttocks/upper legs and hands/forearms were bitten. That lends more weight to the preconditioning argument theory and less toward yours, John. The 5th victim which was bitten by the Mako had a bite in the thigh leg area.

That said, it is a theory and Ralph Collier isn't the only authority on sharks. It'd be interesting to see what George Burgess and the other panelists who were in Egypt have to say. Still, the correlation seems valid and begs discussion.

Hmmm...all sounds pretty arbitrary to me....people have been bitten in just about every arbitrary place on the body by sharks in general. In my limited experience with Oceanics in the Bahamas, they bumped and explored us wherever they could. We were well away from the bait, and not feeding them, and we were not in an area where shark feeding is prevalent. Shark behaviour varies from species to species...... I think it's quite possible that the 'rogue' Oceanic was behaving as Oceanics normally do when exploring a potential living creature as a potential meal.
Carribean reef sharks at Stuart Coves place in the Bahamas have to be the most habituated fed sharks in the world, the boat showing up is truly like a dinner bell, yet they do not attack humans, unless the body part is clearly holding or in the way of the food, and their behaviour is totally different to Oceanics, almost never bumping up against humans except if they are in the way of the food.

Edited by loftus, 20 August 2011 - 08:17 AM.

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#7 Drew

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 09:27 AM

Daniel, I'm not one to believe everything I see on TV... especially Discovery. It's a pretty bold statement made by Ralph, and his colleagues from the Egypt cases have not come out to support his supposition. Of course, many times, the premise of scientific theories come from non-scientific ideas, so it's not really easy to dismiss his theory.

Like John's theory about self-defence; if the victims saw the sharks coming at them, they would use their hands or legs in a defensive posture. This would explain arms being bitten. Then again, Ralph's supposition that because the OWT was accustomed to being hand fed, it just went for the forearms like it was handling fish.

What makes these businesses and practices so unethical is that one person's day of fun or exciting photography can end up facilitating another person's death or dismemberment. It's one thing for a customer to sign a waiver and get killed doing what they knew (to some extent) to be risky; it's quite another for someone to die because they had the misfortune of swimming in the ocean near animals that were conditioned to the point of associating specific human body parts with free food. The "Rogue Shark" show was pretty damning in that regard, though the more appropriate title would've been "Trained Shark." But I expect the shark-feeding defenders to show up in force, pointing out that Collier isn't a "real scientist" and erecting straw-man arguments about how there would be many many more such attacks if this hypothesis were valid.

When you bait and feed wild predators that have the neurological foundation for conditioning, and in some cases you do so repeatedly with the same individuals, you aren't merely pushing the right buttons or gently manipulating existing behaviors. You are reshaping those buttons and changing behaviors. Why this isn't obvious in this context, whereas if we were talking about lions or bears most of us would immediately get the problem, I have no idea. Perhaps its a case of our own cognitive tendencies and biases overriding what ought to be clear. And perhaps some of us have convinced ourselves that the downsides or unanswered questions surrounding these operations are outweighed by all those wonderful, opinion-shaping video clips and photographs or man and shark communing peacefully.


I have to say many people have very "interesting" risk assessment when it comes to high risk activity. I just had a buddy summit Everest (where 1 in 13 people don't make it back!) whereas he's too chicken to jump into a shark baitball alone. I do think that humans have to accept the idea that swimming in beaches is inherently more dangerous than swimming in a pool, especially when it comes to being bitten by wildlife.

Respect nature? Respect sharks? Then leave them alone. You can fight the good fight and work to protect shark populations without pulling a Rob Stewart and insisting that the entire enterprise depends on you frolicking in the water with the animals.

Well I'll agree with that except that we know that if the sharks didn't generate revenue, they'd probably be fished out in areas like the Bahamas. In the areas like Micronesia and Maldives, they are protected because they are part of the diving biosphere, which is their BIGGEST industry.

Hmmm...all sounds pretty arbitrary to me....people have been bitten in just about every arbitrary place on the body by sharks in general. In my limited experience with Oceanics in the Bahamas, they bumped and explored us wherever they could. We were well away from the bait, and not feeding them, and we were not in an area where shark feeding is prevalent. Shark behaviour varies from species to species...... I think it's quite possible that the 'rogue' Oceanic was behaving as Oceanics frequently do when exploring a potential living creature as a potential meal.
Carribean reef sharks at Stuart Coves place in the Bahamas have to be the most habituated fed sharks in the world, the boat showing up is truly like a dinner bell, yet they do not attack humans, unless the body part is clearly holding or in the way of the food, and their behaviour is totally different to Oceanics, almost never bumping up against humans


I do see why you're skeptical about that conclusion. If it was one time, it would be arbitrary to come to that conclusion. Still with 4 victims, and each pair of victims with similar injuries, all by the same shark, it becomes a bit more statistically relevant. There are the other factors to consider. They also chum for the little fish in the Naama bay. Also according to the Egyptian DI who was in the water at the time of the first 2 incidents, the OWT also harassed the scuba divers in the water, in pretty much the same way it was usually fed.
These aren't anything more than suppositions toward a working theory. John's theory answers 2 of the 4 bites but not the other 2 with the mid torso bites. This particular theory conveniently fills quite a few of the gaps.
As for reef sharks vs OWT, in my experience in the South Pacific, when the reefs see you as a competitor, they do charge but I never let them get close enough to see if they actually bite first! This is especially true of the fed sharks of Tahiti, where I've literall been chased out of the area where the feeding occurs, ostensibly because we dived without chumming or feeding.

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#8 Drew

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 01:47 PM

Here is the part of the program "Rogue Shark" and the final conclusions made by Ralph Collier. I'll just link and not imbed. Jump to 6.20. Be warned there are some images of the wounds on the victims!


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#9 loftus

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 02:17 PM

Here is the part of the program "Rogue Shark" and the final conclusions made by Ralph Collier. I'll just link and not imbed. Jump to 6.20. Be warned there are some images of the wounds on the victims!

I think the video as presented is quite convincing, though one would then expect more sharks that have been fed to exhibit similar behavior. Oceanics are very intimidating sharks in my opinion, and probably for good reason.
I think actual hand feeding in general is pretty dumb whether it's to sharks or morays. It's even dumber to try to hand feet certain shark species, more than others.
It's also important I think to differentiate hand feeding, versus simply attracting sharks with chum boxes etc in the water.

Edited by loftus, 20 August 2011 - 02:21 PM.

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#10 danielandrewclem

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 04:21 PM

Well I'll agree with that except that we know that if the sharks didn't generate revenue, they'd probably be fished out in areas like the Bahamas. In the areas like Micronesia and Maldives, they are protected because they are part of the diving biosphere, which is their BIGGEST industry.


I've been hearing this for at least 15 years, and for a while I passed it along as conventional wisdom. But it's a false choice. There are other means of protecting nature aside from monetizing it in some way. But let's go with your premise for the moment and say that some sort of substantial revenue is required to protect shark populations, especially in places where people derive some kind of income from the sea and its resources. Well, why not just pay off whomever needs to be paid off and skip the diving part, thereby avoiding any real or hypothetical conditioning that may be happening with those sharks, and avoiding any danger—whether "inherent" or enhanced—the divers would face? Wouldn't that be easier? Why don't shark conservationists hire some people to patrol these areas and keep the longliners out? Or how about a less radical approach: Keep the dive operations going, but don't use any chum, bait, or food. Leave it up to the sharks to show up, hang around, or not. Take your chances and let them be themselves, without performance-enhancing tactics.

Sound okay? Somehow I doubt it. Who wants to go on a shark dive where the sharks might not show, or might not stick around? What this is about—and has always been about—is the enjoyment of divers and the business success of the operators. The customers want sharks, they want sharks in action, and they want to be close to the action. These arguments about keeping the longliners at bay by generating alternative revenue is just a convenient justification. Divers go to Fiji, South Australia, the Bahamas, and other locales because the sharks are virtually guaranteed and the action enhanced thanks to baiting and feeding.

I do think that humans have to accept the idea that swimming in beaches is inherently more dangerous than swimming in a pool, especially when it comes to being bitten by wildlife.


Of course. But the generic risks you are alluding to may have been greatly increased in the Red Sea case because a specific shark had been conditioned to expect food around the hands and buttocks of humans. That means the danger wasn't just inherent. It wasn't just "people in water" and "oceanic whitetips in water." it was inherent danger plus enhanced danger. (Being in automobiles is inherently dangerous but that doesn't mean we should get rid of drunk driving laws and seat belts and speed limits, does it?) It doesn't make much sense for a movement that wants to improve sharks' collective reputation to be so cavalier and obtuse about 1) adding incidents to the ISAF and 2) conditioning specific sharks to be more dangerous.

And I don't understand how anyone who participates in these dives doesn't feel a little sick at the manipulations involved, even in the absence of any threat or safety concerns. It reminds me of a "friend" I knew in the Peace Corps who went to Bangkok, hired a hooker, and proceeded to spend the night trying to get her to like him. It's delusional.
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#11 Drew

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 10:02 PM

I've been hearing this for at least 15 years, and for a while I passed it along as conventional wisdom. But it's a false choice. There are other means of protecting nature aside from monetizing it in some way. But let's go with your premise for the moment and say that some sort of substantial revenue is required to protect shark populations, especially in places where people derive some kind of income from the sea and its resources. Well, why not just pay off whomever needs to be paid off and skip the diving part, thereby avoiding any real or hypothetical conditioning that may be happening with those sharks, and avoiding any danger—whether "inherent" or enhanced—the divers would face? Wouldn't that be easier? Why don't shark conservationists hire some people to patrol these areas and keep the longliners out? Or how about a less radical approach: Keep the dive operations going, but don't use any chum, bait, or food. Leave it up to the sharks to show up, hang around, or not. Take your chances and let them be themselves, without performance-enhancing tactics.

Sound okay? Somehow I doubt it. Who wants to go on a shark dive where the sharks might not show, or might not stick around? What this is about—and has always been about—is the enjoyment of divers and the business success of the operators. The customers want sharks, they want sharks in action, and they want to be close to the action. These arguments about keeping the longliners at bay by generating alternative revenue is just a convenient justification. Divers go to Fiji, South Australia, the Bahamas, and other locales because the sharks are virtually guaranteed and the action enhanced thanks to baiting and feeding.


Daniel, you do realize there's a billion dollar industry that's bent on killing every last shark? That translates to a lot of buying power of locals who'd wipe out sharks in their own reefs. Just look at what's happening in South East Asia, Southern Africa and other areas with comparatively no money. Furthermore, a lot of the money that these shark conservationist groups get is from people who enjoy/ed diving with sharks. That's how the whole Donsol whale shark industry sprung up, without which there'd be NO WAY to prevent the slaughter of the whalesharks in the area. The correlation is obvious and undeniable. As for protection, check which sea creature are protected aggressively by sovereign nations or even local villages and it's usually because it's a local resource. If it isn't useful, there's much less will to protect it. And the less tangible it is, the less likely anyone gives a crap!


Of course. But the generic risks you are alluding to may have been greatly increased in the Red Sea case because a specific shark had been conditioned to expect food around the hands and buttocks of humans. That means the danger wasn't just inherent. It wasn't just "people in water" and "oceanic whitetips in water." it was inherent danger plus enhanced danger. (Being in automobiles is inherently dangerous but that doesn't mean we should get rid of drunk driving laws and seat belts and speed limits, does it?) It doesn't make much sense for a movement that wants to improve sharks' collective reputation to be so cavalier and obtuse about 1) adding incidents to the ISAF and 2) conditioning specific sharks to be more dangerous.

And I don't understand how anyone who participates in these dives doesn't feel a little sick at the manipulations involved, even in the absence of any threat or safety concerns. It reminds me of a "friend" I knew in the Peace Corps who went to Bangkok, hired a hooker, and proceeded to spend the night trying to get her to like him. It's delusional.


To quote MTV, welcome to the real world. Humans are selfish and self-serving. We also see the world as a resource. In a better world called Utopia, we'd probably be managing the planet a lot better than we are right now. I agree with you though. I've personally been against persistent shark chumming/diving in the same area that is close to human activity for years. Unfortunately, my involvement in shark conservation has just opened my idealism to reality, and if protection is to be had for sharks, reality is where it's at.

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#12 loftus

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 03:41 AM

I've been hearing this for at least 15 years, and for a while I passed it along as conventional wisdom. But it's a false choice. There are other means of protecting nature aside from monetizing it in some way. But let's go with your premise for the moment and say that some sort of substantial revenue is required to protect shark populations, especially in places where people derive some kind of income from the sea and its resources. Well, why not just pay off whomever needs to be paid off and skip the diving part, thereby avoiding any real or hypothetical conditioning that may be happening with those sharks, and avoiding any danger—whether "inherent" or enhanced—the divers would face? Wouldn't that be easier? Why don't shark conservationists hire some people to patrol these areas and keep the longliners out? Or how about a less radical approach: Keep the dive operations going, but don't use any chum, bait, or food. Leave it up to the sharks to show up, hang around, or not. Take your chances and let them be themselves, without performance-enhancing tactics.

There is nothing that is not a monetizable resource in one way or another, including air, water, all animals, plants etc. The problem is not that everything is considered a resource, but that many of our natural resources are undervalued or considered free and are not truly assigned a monetizable value. So the problem is not with the idea of nature as resource, or monetizing these resources. The problem is with undervaluing these resources particularly in the long term.
This is at the heart of human nature as well, as I am certain you too look for the best deal, or given the opportunity take advantage of a resource or commodity that is perceived to be or presented as free.
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#13 danielandrewclem

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 06:43 PM

I get what you guys are saying. And believe me, I am not at all utopian or sentimental about these things. It just bugs me that the market for these shark-feeding dive operations is still so viable despite the apparent problems or even the basic questions that are looming so large. What this tells me is that many people are indeed thinking "me first" and not thinking a whole lot about the likely or apparent dangers associated with shark feeding, or about the ethical issues involved even in the absence of any danger. I wish those folks would admit that they're doing these things for the adrenaline and the great photos and the sheer fun of it, and that they wouldn't use the 'we're saving sharks by diving with them!' line as though this is the only way to monetize sharks aside from finning them. There's some serious cognitive dissonance afoot. On the one hand, we're given loads of anecdotal evidence about how such operations are "changing attitudes" and generating revenue the right way, with sharks and people being mutual beneficiaries. The implication, sometimes quite explicitly, is 'Let these operations continue or kiss these sharks goodbye. Live sharks or dead sharks: you decide.' It's a black/white thing. And as long as everyone has a good time and nobody gets hurt, we read reports about how "safe" and professional these things are. It's a flurry of anecdotes, with each diver's experience sufficing as evidence. On the other hand, when a diver dies or gets hurt during such an operation, or several uninvolved snorkelers are killed by a shark that may have been conditioned through repeated feedings, we hear requests for "more data." Or, we're told that more attacks like this would surely be occurring if habituation were a serious issue. Suddenly, sample size matters and we need to hear from "real scientists" and not from people who have been deemed media whores or whatever. There's something very dissonant about that.

Maybe I'm just reading the wrong blogs...
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#14 Drew

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 12:05 AM

Daniel, again I agree in principle. I haven't been on a normal chummed shark dive in years. As a shooter, it's probably the only way to frequently be up close and personal with sharks. Certainly there is an exploitative aspect of the shark diving industry, where again they are treated as commodities in shark handling.
The other issue is it took 3 injured and 1 dead with video evidence to postulate the hand feeding correlation. Before that, it was all unprovable conjecture that the sharks would actually bite a human. No one denied that shark behavior changed, but they sort of neglected that final possible outcome of such interaction.
However, how else are you going to gain enough revenue from sharks without killing them? It is an adrenaline filled activity. Until all governments wise up and chip in to stop finning, for some areas, it is the only way to protect sharks.

I think the video as presented is quite convincing, though one would then expect more sharks that have been fed to exhibit similar behavior. Oceanics are very intimidating sharks in my opinion, and probably for good reason.
I think actual hand feeding in general is pretty dumb whether it's to sharks or morays. It's even dumber to try to hand feet certain shark species, more than others.
It's also important I think to differentiate hand feeding, versus simply attracting sharks with chum boxes etc in the water.


I agree. Perhaps sharks are like all other species, where some learn faster than others, it may be this particular shark learnt quickly and made that correlation, whereas the not so bright ones need to learn from smart one. :)

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#15 Drew

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 11:09 AM

I forgot that the conclusion of Rogue Shark was first talked about in Channel 5's Red Sea Jaws. I guess I was the victim of persuasive journalism! :)

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#16 John Bantin

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 11:28 AM

OWT sharks have a habit of following ships and feeding by scavaging food thrown over the stern, as is the habit with most freighters. The narrow shipping lanes of the Red Sea come close to many off-shore dive sites and now that liveaboard dive boats are so much bigger, these sharks are attracted by the similar noise they make.
All the close-up pictures I and everyone has made of them have been obtained simply by swimming at around 15 feet deep near moored vessels at off-shore reefs such as The Brothers, Elphinstone or Daedelus Reef. You don't need bait. These animals approach at speed with the sun behind them and make a close pass to see if you are a potential meal. Try not to be one. I've been nudged several times. They make a close pass and disappear for a long period before being drawn back again for another look. I maybe make three or four exposures in a 90 minute period.
Reef sharks are entirely different. If there is no bait, they won't have any reason to come close.

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